Success at an Oxford PPE Interview is all about preparation. Knowing how to ace the common PPE Interview questions will help you excel on the big day.
Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) combines three different academic abilities into one course allowing you to strengthen the knowledge you already have and gain it in other areas.
As the course covers three subjects, the PPE Interview is not alike others held at Oxford. Why? There is no set format in what you will be asked so it’s crucial you understand how to answer the common questions. In this guide, we’ll go through the common PPE Interview questions to help you prepare for the big day.
What To Expect At An Oxford PPE Interview
Candidates will have at least two Interviews at Oxford, but you should expect to have one for each of the subjects that make up the PPE course.
The questions are designed to be difficult as it gives you the chance to show off your full potential. Not knowing what something means or not using specialised language is not a bad thing. You are not expected to have this knowledge so do not try to use specialist jargon that you do not fully understand and accidentally weaken your answers. PPE Interviews rely on the ability to construct an argument based on the information you have been provided with.
An effective way to overcome the lack of knowledge or terminology is to ask the interviewers questions to help you find out the answer. It’s an admiral trait that tutors like to see.
You should also think out loud whilst going through your answer. You might not nail the answer but the interviewer will be able to understand your thought processes and can then help you out if you get stuck. Make sure you practice this during Interview preparation.
PPE Interviews are hard to prepare for. The key is to start early, practise the common questions and understand what the interviewers are looking for.
With over 95 hours of guided study (including One-To-One Tuition, Intensive Courses and Comprehensive Materials), our expert PPE Interview support truly gives you an advantage that can make the difference between an offer and rejection.
Discover our PPE Interview Programme by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.
Philosophy Interview Questions
To break down the PPE Interview questions, we’ll first start with Philosophy. During the Philosophy Interview, the Admissions Tutors are looking to see if you have the ability to understand a problem, think clearly and logically about it, explain your thoughts, and respond intelligently to considerations for and against.
This can be tested by the following common question:
Q. “Do you think you know anything?”
This question focuses on the branch of philosophy called epistemology which concerns the theory knowledge. It is highly likely you will get a question similar to this one or which touches on some of the ideas you will need to consider to answer this question.
There are a lot of ways you may consider answering this question, the main thing to remember is that you will not be expected to have an in-depth knowledge of epistemology. The Admissions Tutor is just looking to see how you approach such a question.
An example of a bad answer to this question is as follows:
“No, it is not possible to know anything because even though I think I know something, how do I know that I know it?”
The above is a bad answer, as whilst the candidate does begin to consider an interesting concept in philosophy, they do not explain what they mean by “how do I know that I know it?” This is a commonly heard phrase that has little meaning if you do not go on to explain what you actually mean. Therefore, this makes this response superficial.
In comparison, a good response from a candidate would be as follows:
“I’m sure we ‘know’ some things, but the problem comes in trying to prove that we know anything, and in trying to define what knowledge actually is. For example, I know that this is a chair, because I see it, and it looks like a chair. However, how do I know that chair-like things which are perceived are really chairs? Just because I see it, doesn’t mean that it is really there, or that it is really a chair. I have no proof that what I perceive is knowledge. We might, instead, consider non-perceptual forms of knowledge, to see if we can ‘know’ anything. We can use deductive reasoning to argue that 2+2=4. I know that 2+2=4. However, these numbers are purely abstract and are only assigned by humans. I, therefore, don’t really have any proof that 2+2=4, beyond the fact that I have been taught that this is the case, and other people assume it to be so. However, this cannot be a satisfactory account of what it is to know something. Therefore, whilst I want to say that we do ‘know’ some things, I think it takes a lot to prove that we do.”
The above is a good answer as it really considers what the question asks. It is significantly less superficial than the bad answer and considers different approaches to the problem of knowledge – especially how it can be possible to define knowledge.
Although the candidate does not use overly technical terms, this is not expected of them. They have noticed a difference between knowledge of things that we perceive (a kind of inductive knowledge) and deductive knowledge, which shows that they are thinking deeply about the question
Another example of a question that could be asked to you about philosophy is demonstrated below:
Q. “How would you go about assessing the number of people in here?”
This question focuses on the concept of personhood and identity. It is the type of question which might throw you so make sure that before you tackle it, you sit back and think about what the Admissions Tutor is really asking you. For the sake of this example, there are three people in the room.
An example of a bad answer to this question is:
“There are three people. There cannot be more than 3 people, as I can only see three. There cannot be less than three, because I can see three. Anyone who thinks overwise is wrong.”
This is bad as it fails to consider any other potential approach to the idea of personhood. The candidate assumes that the way we tend to count people is inherently true without questioning this at all. It also becomes argumentative in a way that can be tempting if faced with a difficult question, which is particularly unhelpful in a philosophy Interview.
You need to show that you are willing to be persuaded to consider other potential solutions, rather than immediately shutting yourself off from them.
Whereas a competent candidate would likely give an answer such as the one that follows:
“We would usually say that there are three people in this room. However, that assumes that the other people in this room are in fact, people. We do not really know this. For example, you may both be philosophical zombies [i.e., someone who looks and acts like a person but doesn’t really have a conscience or soul]. I don’t know that you have a conscience, so, assuming that being a person is in some ways defined by the existence of a conscience, I don’t know whether either of you really are “people”. If we think about what defines what it is to be a “person”, we will find it hard to prove, in fact, that any of us have the features which make us by definition a person. For example, we might instead claim that a person is an entity that has free will. However, we don’t really know that we have free will. We may be controlled by a God or something else to perform the actions we do and be programmed to think that this is our own free will. Therefore, we cannot truly know how many people are in this room.”
This candidate has considered a range of approaches to the question of what it is to be a person. They do not close themselves off to considering different philosophic arguments and instead embraces a philosophical debate.
They have also demonstrated that they have a basic understanding of core philosophical ideas, such as free will, and the idea of philosophic zombies. As already mentioned, that knowledge is not expected of them.
Politics Interview Questions
Moving onto the Politics Interview, you need to be ready to be challenged on your views and to remember that more often than not there will be no right answer. You will have to explain your reasoning and justifications as that is what the Admissions Tutors want to see. Doing so will prove your capability to succeed in PPE at Oxford.
An example of a question you are likely to be asked is:
Q. “What are the main reasons for persistent unemployment in the UK?”
Here is an example of a good answer to the question:
“I think that people are often tempted to look for simple explanations behind complicated issues. This is why extreme political parties are so successful: they provide the population with easily identifiable scapegoats such as ‘the current government’, ‘immigrants’, or ‘the EU’, and blame them for every economic and social problem. In reality, issues such as unemployment have many reasons. One of them could be the discrepancy between supply and demand: what type of jobs people are prepared for at schools and universities, and what type of jobs are offered on the market. For instance, in Scandinavian countries, when an unemployed individual cannot find work for a certain period of time, he is offered courses that allow him to perform a different type of work, with more demand. Another reason could indeed be globalisation, with the international economic crisis, and many companies moving abroad to reduce costs. However, this does not justify oversimplifying the issue by blaming solely external factors such as foreigners or international organisations. Instead, efforts should be made to better adapt the national system to the realities of the globalised world.”
This is a very strong answer as it is a balanced, well-argued answer regardless of the candidates political or moral stance. They stay away from generalisation and normative statements based on little or no evidence.
In comparison, a poor applicant might refuse to engage with a question of which they have little previous knowledge. Alternatively, they may make sweeping generalisations or provide an exhaustive list of factors without explaining them.
Admissions Tutors like to ask questions relating to any further reading you may have done, as it shows your dedication and passion for the subject.
A common question relating to this is:
Q. “Tell me about some political texts that you have read.”
A fairly straightforward and obvious question, which is why these are the ones not to slip up on.
Good candidates will try to go beyond simply giving factual knowledge on a text studied. They will try to come up with a critical approach showing a certain degree of independent thought or problematise the term ‘political texts’:
“I have looked at some political theory texts, such as Plato’s Republic. In this text, the author is describing a perfect political system, an ideal city led by a philosopher-king. He also talks about other flawed political systems, such as tyranny or democracy. I think that this text is very interesting and useful for understanding political systems from the past, and has also inspired other, more recent authors. However, it is important to note that Plato writes from the perspective of Ancient Greece, and many of his concepts are outdated. I think that the term ‘political text’ could also apply to other types of documents, for example, party programmes, but even literary fiction. I recently read Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, a novel with fantasy themes such as the devil and witchcraft, written in the Soviet Union. Its focus on religion and the occult was also a hidden critique of the atheistic Soviet society. Similar things could be said about Animal Farm or 1984.”
As for a poor candidate, they might panic if they have not studied texts of political theory in school, instead of making the best of it by trying to come up with different types of political texts.
Alternatively, the candidate might opt for dumping a lot of factual information on a text instead of showing their understanding of it or demonstrating a critical perspective.
Economics Interview Questions
With Economics questions, you are not expected to land on the answer straight away. You need to demonstrate your thought processes, so make sure to verbalise everything. You may be faced with a long question with a lot of detail that will likely take you longer to answer, do not worry, the Admissions Tutor knows and is prepared for this to be the case.
An example of such a question follows:
“You run a sweet shop next-door to a rival sweet shop – you’ve both been able to drum up considerable loyalty in your customers who will flat-out refuse to shop anywhere else, provided you keep your prices below a tenner per sweet.
You each have 10 such loyal customers – but there are 100 potential customers on the street who don’t care as much and will buy from whoever is cheapest.
Q. With this in mind, at what price point would you have to reach for it to be more valuable to sell everything for ten pounds?”
This question relies on you being able to do relatively simple maths. However, the phrasing uses a lot of words that may throw you off. For these kinds of wordy questions take a breath and think about what you need to infer from the question in order to get to the answer.
A bad candidate will state the answer without showing workings – you will be provided with paper to write on so make sure to show the Admissions Tutor. They will make assumptions without stating them.
Whereas a good candidate will state their assumption and will likely discuss afterwards how the answer will differ if marginal cost were greater than zero:
You will need to consider which numbers are useful from the question for working out your answer. Sometimes interviewers will throw some numbers in which are not useful. In this case, however, all numbers given are necessary to reach the solution. Note that the loyal customers will not buy above £10, but they will buy at £10. As the business is seeking to maximise profits, if it opts for the price of the loyal customers, they should charge £10. You should also discuss whether the non-loyal customers will also buy at £10. However, as you are in competition, once you reach the price at which it is no longer profitable to undercut your competitor, if you raise your prices to £10, then the non-loyal customers will always go to your competitor. Firstly, you want to show that it will be more profitable when 80 times the price is less than 10 times £10:
Remember, that you should use the less than sign, rather than the less than or equal to sign. This is because the question asks you to show when it will be more profitable to sell at £10, not when it will be more or equally profitable. This is an easy mistake to make. It is worth also mentioning that £1.25 is a game theory equilibrium. Therefore, it is likely that both competitors, in the long run, will sell at this price.”
Another question that could come up in your PPE Economics Interview is:
Q. “Do you feel that economists trust models too much?”
This is a fairly broad economics question that will ask you to consider the merits of the way we usually approach economics, and to discuss behavioural economics and the fairly recent academic move by behavioural economists away from relying on models.
Here is an example of a bad answer:
“No, because economic models allow us to measure the economy, and therefore it is good that we have economic models.”
This is a bad answer because the question does not ask the candidate where economic models are good, but whether economists can rely too heavily on them. Arguing that there is a huge amount of merit to economic models is easy to discuss, whilst also discussing there are some cases in which economists rely too heavily on these models. Instead, this candidate fails to engage properly in the question.
Now here is an answer a good candidate would give:
“Models serve an important role in economics, both for helping us to try to measure the economy and for predicting what may happen in the future. It helps to guide policy in order to aim towards good economic consequences, such as seeking high employment and economic growth. However, there are situations in which economic models will fail to properly predict what will happen in the economy, and thus, what policymakers should do. This usually happens, either because humans act in unexpected, irrational ways, or because some other thing happens which is unexpected.
For example, even our most basic demand/supply models predict that the economy will follow certain rules to set the price and quantity of goods in an economic system.
However, just because there is an increase in supply, which, as the models would posit, means that there should be a decrease in the price of a good, doesn’t mean that humans will automatically adhere to the new price. There may be delays in shifting to the price, or they may not change at all, due to consumer habit or other behavioural reasons. As well as this, surprise events may occur for which economists are unable to use models to prepare and plan policy.
This happened with the coronavirus pandemic. Economic predictions which followed from models became invalidated by the sudden escalation of the coronavirus situation. Economists, in situations such as these, must be prepared to move away from the models and to adapt to new situations, as well as shifting focus towards examining the behaviour of how humans interact in new economic situations such as this.”
This answer is good as the candidate engages with the question. In doing so, they do not jump straight into saying that economic models are always good or bad and instead gives some examples of when they cannot be relied upon.
This adds nuance to the argument, as well as showing knowledge of current affairs and how recent events may affect the economy.
PPE Interview questions are not designed to catch you out, but to get you thinking logically and critically. Admissions Tutors want to see your passion and dedication to the course and as long as you can prove that to them, you will have a successful Interview.
Being prepared to engage with new concepts during the Interview and responding to the questions asked of you is key. Do not worry about making mistakes or not understanding a concept, the purpose of the Interview is to assess how you would cope being taught in the tutorials at Oxford and how you would handle the tutor teaching you. Good luck with your PPE Interview!
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With over 95 hours of guided study (including One-To-One Tuition, Mock Interviews, Intensive Courses and Comprehensive Materials), our expert Oxford PPE Interview support truly gives you an advantage that can make the difference between an offer and rejection.
Discover our Oxford PPE Interview Programme by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.